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“Democracy does not stand a chance in Rwanda”

by Peter Molt

In brief

Supporters of President Kagame in Kigali in August

Supporters of President Kagame in Kigali in August

In August, Rwandan President Paul Kagame was re-elected by an overwhelming majority. There was no serious opposition candidate – the three people who managed to register had all been Kagame’s supporters in the previous election. Peter Molt, who has been following the developments in Rwanda for many years, discussed recent events in an interview with Claudia Isabel Rittel of D+C/E+Z.

For the past ten years, Kagame was president. Now he has been re-elected for another seven years. What will happen in that time?
He will carry on as before. But he will not be able to solve the fundamental problems that haunt Rwanda and its relations with its neighbours. Since he will not give up an ounce of his power, there will be no lasting solutions.

Rwanda’s economic track record looks good, so Kagame should enjoy wide support among his people. Why did he clamp down on the opposition nonetheless?
Either he was extremely insecure and worried about not getting enough votes or he just considers an election a mere ritual. The latter seems more likely.

Does democracy stand a chance in Rwanda?
No, it does not. In Rwanda, it is forbidden to address the deep rifts in society. It is an offence to talk about Hutu and Tutsi. At the same time, the present leadership derives its legitimacy by referring to the Tutsi genocide. By all means, it remains a minority regime. In this setting, demo­cracy does not stand a chance.

So what kind of system does Rwanda need?
A more liberal authoritarian rule with a genuine dedication to bridging the rifts in society.

The international community approves of Kagame and supports him. Does that affect Western credibility?
I don't think so. Paul Kagame is one of Africa's leading statesmen. There are not many others with a similar sense of determination. Moreover, there is no alternative to him. The problem is that there is little hope of realising human rights anywhere in the region – neither in Rwanda, nor in neighbouring countries, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Does it make sense to press ahead with economic development at the expense of civil rights?
That kind of policy works for the middle and upper classes. The problem is that there are around eight million micro­farmers in Rwanda. Kagame has no solution for making the agriculture of his country more productive and at the same time creating new employment for the masses of the poor. The country is grossly over-populated and the population continues to grow. Kagame may have limited success in one or the other issue, but he does not have a realistic vision for his country's future.